The Final Word
by Jodi Moore
There’s a lot of attention paid to first lines. As readers, we undoubtedly appreciate them. As writers, we strive for them, revising over and over until we capture the Very Best One. They can be the gateway between snagging an agent or editor (possibly a contract!) and a near miss.
An opening line not only serves as a first impression, it’s also a promise of what’s to come. You make a pact with your reader, one on which you must deliver. If the first line hooks readers, but there’s not enough substance to keep them there, they will abandon you.
Now, imagine the first line sparkles. The body builds to an exciting climax, captivating readers, imploring them to invest their time, their minds, their hearts. And then…the denouement. The readers’ takeaway. The promise fulfilled.
At least that’s the plan.
How many times have you immersed yourself in something completely…only to have the final line fall flat? You may feel underwhelmed. Disappointed. Even cheated.
In my opinion, a last line is just as – if not more – important than a first.
A good book is a feast for the soul: the first sentence analogous to a delectable appetizer; the body of the work, the sumptuous main course; the final line, a rich dessert. The closing words should melt on the tongue like a fine confection, offering just the right amount of substance, just the right amount of sweetness. But if the ice cream is granular, the cheesecake dry, and/or the coffee bitter, your guests leave with a bad taste in their mouths.
Not exactly the last, nor the lasting, impression you want.
So, how do you write a grand finale? Sadly, there’s no magic formula. As with any line, you first need to write it down. Then you must revise, revise, revise. When it’s the best you think it can be, share it with your critique buddies. What is their takeaway? Is it what you’d hoped? If not, repeat the process.
Of course, it helps to learn from the experts – those authors, and their works, that resonate with you. Here’s the fun part. You get to research, a.k.a. READ!
To get you started, I’ve offered some examples here. And while this blog series is predominantly for picture book writers, I’ve included samples from a variety of work to “illustrate” my point. A good line is a good line. Keep in mind that the final (punch) line in a picture book can be an illustration. Don’t be fooled. It is a line in every sense of the, um, non-word. A great example of this? Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos. Make sure you give your artists the freedom to make a statement.
Last lines can be:
- Affirming: “I thought I could.” – The Little Engine That Could (Watty Piper)
- Inspiring: “We can all dance,” he said, “when we find music that we love.” – Giraffes Can’t Dance (Giles Andreae)
- Empowering: “Let me tell you about it.” – Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)
- Reassuring: “Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him – and it was still hot.” – Where The Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak)
- Quiet: “Good night noises everywhere.” – Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown)
- Loud: “When you join in, there’s so much noise I have to leave the room!” – Yip! Snap! Yap! (Charles Fuge)
- Humorous Twist: “I suppose there’s another nightmare in my closet, but my bed’s not big enough for three.” – There’s A Nightmare In My Closet (Mercer Mayer)
- Persuasive: “Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.” – The Lorax (Dr. Seuss)
- Hopeful: “I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.” – Looking For Alaska (John Green)
- Uplifting: “I turn away, knowing that I might never get to see Julie Murphy ever again. But I will know her for the rest of my life.” – One For The Murphys (Lynda Mullaly Hunt)
(I know, I know. *hangs head in shame* I’ve presented two lines here. But when two lines are so dependent upon each other, featuring one without its mate would be, well, wrong.)
- Cautionary: “And after dinner…we take the principal’s note very seriously.” – Too Much Glue (Jason Lefebvre)
- Thought Provoking: “We’ll leave the kid with the raised up shoe; what do you think that kid should do?” – Hey, Little Ant (Phillip M. and Hannah Hoose)
- Silly: “We were all having so much fun on the hill while Little Bo Peep got the blame.” – Little Bo Peep by the Sheep (as told to Priscilla Lamont)
- Circular: “And chances are if he asks for a glass of milk, he’s going to want a cookie to go with it.” – If You Give A Mouse A Cookie (Laura Numeroff)
- Rhythmic: “They rock and rock and rock to sleep.” –The Going To Bed Book (Sandra Boynton)
- Sad (yes, even picture books can be poignant): “I watched the water ripple as the sun set through the maples and the chance of a kindness with Maya becoming more and more forever gone.” – Each Kindness (Jacqueline Woodson)
- Happy: (Don’t we all love a happy ending?) “And everyone was all smiles. Especially you-know-who.” Nugget & Fang (Tammi Sauer)
- Esoteric: “Goodbye, I say, goodbye, as I disappear little by little into the middle of the middle of my own spectacular now.” – The Spectacular Now (Tim Thorp)
- Infinite (promising new adventure): “And off she went.” – Cloudette (Tom Lichtenheld)
- Universal: “All the world is all of us.” – All The World (Liz Garton Scanlon)
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. (Many thanks to my local library and bookstore for allowing me to camp out in their aisles and to my awesome writer buddy friends for chiming in with some of their favorites!)
What makes these lines so strong, so timeless, is that they leave us thinking about the book and its characters long after the last page is turned. They melt on our tongues, tickle our funny bones and/or nest in our hearts.
Look, I know how exciting it feels to see the finish line looming ahead. But writing isn’t a race. It’s a journey. There’s no need to rush. Savor those last strides to the end. Chill for a bit. Have some chocolate. Let things marinate. Observe what’s around you. Check with trusted readers to make sure you’re moving in the right direction. Then, when you’re ready to continue, plant your feet carefully. You want those final footprints to have a huge impact.
Finally, as you rework your ending, remember that resolutions in stories do not have to tie up all loose ends. In fact, I believe they shouldn’t. Real life doesn’t work that way. We don’t want or need you to fix everything.
Except maybe your last line.
What are some of your favorites?
Jodi considers books, along with chocolate, to be one of the main food groups. She writes both picture books and young adult novels, hoping to challenge, nourish and inspire her readers by opening up brand new worlds and encouraging unique ways of thinking.
Jodi is the proud and (admittedly) neurotic mother of two incredibly talented young adults and never ceases to be amazed at how far the umbilical cord really will stretch. She lives in central PA with her always supportive best friend/husband, Larry, two laughing doves, and an ever-changing bunch of characters in her head. In addition to reading, writing, and chocolate, Jodi enjoys music, theater, dancing, the beach, and precious time spent with her family.
Finally, Jodi thinks it would be really cool if one of her stories eventually became a Disney or Universal movie or theme park ride. Or a Broadway musical.
Just puttin’ it out there.
Jodi is the author of:
When Dragon Moves In
Good News Nelson
WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN (Flashlight Press) is coming Fall 2015
FIND JODI MOORE:
It’s been said that hindsight is 20:20. Can you write a story based on a final sentence? Try it with this prompt: “I told you so”, she said, and flashed a smile a mile wide.
Missed a SUMMER SPARK? Don’t worry, you can find them here:
Day 1: In Celebration of Summer Magic by Kelly Milner Halls
Day 2: The Power of Doodling by Alison K. Hertz
Day 3: Cause & Effect by Alayne Kay Christian
Day 4: How to be a Marketing Ninja by Corey Rosen Schwartz
Day 5: A Visual Writing Prompt: Begin at the End by Julie Gribble
Day 6: The Final Word by Jodi Moore
Day 7: Inspiration Station by Susanna Hill
Day 8: Voice and Word Choice in Picture Books by Tara Lazar
Day 9: Platform Building Can You Build It? Yes, You Can! by Tracey M. Cox
Day 10: 5 Ways to Hook Your Reader with Your Very First Line by Kirsti Call
Day 11: Burning Down the House aka Revision by Donna Earnhardt
Day 12: Persistence by Donna M. McDine
Day 13: Writing Your Way to a Spark by Kris Dinnison
Day 14: Hope In Your Heart by Carol Gordon Ekster
BONUS: What Songs Rock Your World? by Claire Rudolf Murphy
THAT’S A WRAP!
Follow-up #1: TIPS
Follow-up #2: 9 Ways to Tighten Your Story
Prize Announcement: Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner!